Features Trail Attack

Published on May 26, 2016

Trail Attack Race Report

New for 2016 Trail Attack is elegantly simple in its near transcendental concept; joining the likes of Thunder Run 24 and Equinox this off-roader delivers 24hours of looped trail open to solo runners, pairs and teams. Whilst RunningMonkey has taken the plunge with most conceivable combinations of terrain and distance this would be – as it would for event organisers and OCR specialists Reaper Events – a step (or 80,000) into the unknown.

Trail Attack takes place in deepest Warwickshire at the Heart of England Forest, an estate with an ambitious and commendable project to create a new broadleaf forest accessible to all. Today it is bucolically tranquil, in 50 year’s time it will be stunning. But to the race itself…

A small and sensibly manageable group of gnarly ultra dirt-baggers had assembled for the start – a mix of solo heroes, pair runners and larger teams of 4-6. Whilst I was set to take the first 10km loop my running partner Robin Pemberton busied himself finalising our tent-based home-from-home, lashing things together, as only an ultra runner can, with lengths of ROCKTAPE.

After a lively, brief, and relaxed race briefing from Course Director Chris Nicoll, it was time to hit the trail and hit it, for loop 1 at least, pretty damn hard.

Trail AttackThat old adage about not going off too fast? Forget it. Plenty of competitive jostling marked out the first kilometre or two as we zigzagged our way across open fields, but this was balanced by equal amounts of friendly banter, previous race anecdotes and pre-emptive injury excuses. Frankly it was good to get this all out in the open on the first lap because, as time and distance ticked by for the next 24hours, the field inevitably spread itself so thin that long(ish) periods would pass without seeing another sole.

Here, then is a rough breakdown of the 10km loop. The first three kilometres proved relatively flat with the route following numerous switchbacks across fields rarely more than a straight country mile from the start/finish transition area and campsite. The 4km point marked the first of the many hills that defined the mid and back end of the course; whilst this was no more than 250m in distance and climbed probably little more than 10m it took on Eiger-like proportions by the 5th, 6th, 7th… loop. Succour came though at the halfway point with a welcome CP delivering water and jelly sweets (the joy of which diminished slightly by 60km) before runners climbed further into a deliciously dappled copse for more arduous undulation.

Trail AttackThe final 4k of each loop was another succession of small hills (subsequently mountainous) again rarely more than 200m each in length, but collectively sapping even in the early stages. The duck pond at 8k always proved a welcome sight; firstly as it signal the approaching end of a lap, but also as it provided me with someone to ‘talk’ to on each outing as I always made a point of quacking loudly at the befuddled waterfowl. It’s the small insanities of ultra-running that keep you sane.

The course was impeccably marked out with orange stakes at mere 10-15metre intervals and white stakes at each kilometre point – although in honesty the mind-melting effort of the trail meant that I never actually worked out the white stakes’ significance. I’d just assumed organisers had sporadically run out of orange ones… The route had been mown, making it easier to follow (particularly through the night with eyes downcast) but there was no denying that it was frequently rutted and peppered with ankle-rolling-potential holes. Personally I had no problem with the conditions under foot, but there were small pockets of runners making their feelings known about the unsuitability for running. That’s trail running as far as I’m concerned and any overt attempt to tamper with flattening out a course just isn’t true to the sports nature – if you want snooker-table-level fields, do a Parkrun. Better to manage runners’ expectations than to manage the terrain.

Trail AttackRobin and I had a (hopefully) simple strategy for Trail Attack: one loop on, one loop off. Wash and repeat. It could be argued that having one runner tackle two or even three loops at a time would give the other some time for proper rest – maybe even some hastily grabbed sleep – we felt this weighed against the physical and mental effort of tackling anything longer than 10km at a time for 24hours.

Our early lap times looked reasonably solid with this approach; both of us hitting quite consistent 1hour(ish) laps for the first 40k each even when the weather turned wet and the course slicker throughout the afternoon. By midnight and through the small hours this had slipped considerably closer to 9minute kilometres, but with dawn and some sunlight on our backs we clawed this back again – I surprised myself somewhat by knocking out a 1:08 for my 10th and final loop. Consistency in tactic, for us at least, works well.

Transition at the start/finish and the sensibly manual timing system was managed as impeccably as the course was marked by the irrepressibly upbeat Sally and her team. Without exception the merry band of marshals and helpers were first class – always ready with a word of encouragement or happy to pitch in to the gallows humour that ultra-runners relish. Throughout the day and night support staff ran the course backwards against the flow to keep and eye on proceedings. A task of work like Trail Attack is made so much more tolerable with good support and if there was ever any doubt that managing successful OCR events was a transferable skill Reaper have dispelled it.

Non-tech (but very nice) t-shirts for all finishers and a medal in the post felt like icing on this hilly old cake and another particularly nice touch was that event pictures – by Good Sports – were free to download.

Next year Reaper are planning on adding a 3km kid’s race (2016 Trail Attack was certainly kids-in-attendance friendly), plus 10k stand-alone day and night races. It will certainly add to the vibe and increased numbers in the main event will certainly do it no harm – like the Heart of England Forest itself, Reaper have sown seeds with the inaugural Trail Attack that deserve to flourish and grow.

Oh, and Robin and I accidently won the Pairs Event with a combined 200km. Which is nice…

Full details of Trail Attack 2017 will be announce soon with tentative plans already available at trailattack.co.uk

Images (c) and with thanks to Good Sports

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